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More choose plastic surgery despite risks

Nov. 17, 2005

By MARISSA NEWMAN, reporter

Liposuction, breast augmentation and rhinoplasty have transformed from a well-kept secret among the social elite into a paraded method of self-help.

A study done by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that more than 75 percent of Americans would not be embarrassed if they got cosmetic surgery.

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Henry Chan | Lariat staff
Janet McClain, director of nursing at the Aesthetic Surgery Centre of Waco, explains how MicroAire Liposuction equipment works in sucking fat cells from human bodies.
Even reality shows, such as Extreme Makeover, have taken hold of this new trend. But not everyone who gets cosmetic surgery is motivated by vanity.

"As long as (the patient) has realistic ideas of the outcome, it's helpful on many levels," said Dr. Valerie Wright, a plastic surgeon at the Aesthetic Surgery Center of Waco.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons negates this stereotype with a study done in 2003, involving 60 in-depth interviews of people considering plastic surgery. Only 45 percent of those polled, mostly men, expected benefits from the surgery to include being more accepted and attractive to others.

"I get a lot of patients in who want breast reductions so that they are more able to play sports," Wright said. She also said most of her aesthetic surgeries deal with those who feel self-conscious about being disproportionate.

"People who feel they aren't proportional feel uncomfortable going out," Wright said. "Getting a procedure done to correct this makes them more comfortable in social situations."

Self-image is a driving force behind many of these surgeries.

"It can be something so small that they are the only ones that notice it. Fixing that tiny flaw can give that person a new life," Andrea Hersey, a Tyler junior, said.

The perception that older, wealthy women account for most plastic surgeries is fading.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that 71 percent of people surveyed who were considering plastic surgery had annual household incomes that were less than $60,000 and 64 percent of these people were under the age of 50.

"Improvements in anesthetics have allowed more procedures to be done in outpatient facilities, which has made the surgeries more affordable," Wright said. "We have definitely seen an increase in patients of average income."

According to American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons' statistics, out of the 8.3 million procedures done in 2003, the most popular surgical procedures were liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, and breast reduction.

The number of procedures has increased 22 percent from 2002. This upward trend promises to continue Wright said.

"Patients are more likely to undergo a second procedure because they know how successful the results can be, and are less likely to hesitate if they want something changed," Wright said.

The society's study found that a large majority of people, more than 85 percent, thought the benefits of plastic surgery far outweigh the risks.

Popular television shows, like Nip/Tuck, also aid in the perception of the procedure as more commonplace and low risk.

Some students are even inspired to follow a career through watching these TV shows.

"I became interested in plastic surgery when I saw a show about it on TV, although I am specifically interested in reconstructive surgery," Hersey said.

Hersey intends to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon.

"I believe that cosmetic surgery can have both social and emotional benefits to patients," Hersey said

Some remain skeptical of the actual internal benefits of simple external changes.

"Sometimes people tend to focus on the smaller, easier problems instead of larger internal issues that are harder to fix," said Dr. Elizabeth Palacios, educational psychology lecturer.

Whether the reason be a small or large, internal or external problem, the average age of people having procedures has gone down. Over the past few years, the number of teens getting breast augmentations increased more than 200 percent according to the ASPS.

Many worry that individuals this age should not be making permanent changes to their physical appearance. In 2003, 223,594 people under the age of 18 chose to undergo some form of cosmetic procedure and made up 3.6 percent of those getting surgical enhancement.

The ASPS warns parents to evaluate the teenager's physical and emotional maturity before giving their consent.

"If there is something that a person doesn't like about themselves, it only makes sense to do something about it," Hersey said.